Khaled Hosseini wrote a book about Afghanistan, which is already a feature film and is now a touring play at Brighton’s Theatre Royal. It’s a story set in 1974, about children losing their innocence and a struggle between good and evil. It’s about power, wealth, hierarchies, saints, villains and illegitimate children. And it’s a heart-breaking, delicate tale – a tale of love, loss, betrayal and brutalisation.
The story is set in a country where duty means as much as romance, and where there are different sets of rules for the rich and the poor. Charting the life of three Afghan families in a country ravaged by civil war, the play spans 28 years – and the worst thing is that it ends in 2003. Afghanistan remains a repressive regime, both for men and particularly for women; both setting and writing offer a compelling and contemporary look at male society.
Matthew Spangler’s script, like Hosseini’s book, explores what happens when you let the children out to play unattended. But this is not Lord of the Flies. Think the Bronte sisters: a cross of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre with Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Cruelty and kindness, war and peace, danger and safety, love, loss and new beginnings – and it is the opportunity for redemption that makes the book and script great.
Jo Ben Ayed is painfully submissive and utterly convincing as Hassan, protagonist Amir's best friend, and Sorab, Hassan’s son. He trained at the East 15 acting school and, fittingly, would like to thank his mother and father for supporting him to get where he is today. Amiera Darwish (who trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland but has also acted in the West End) performs well as Amir's wife Soraya. But Amir himself, I am sorry to say, I found weak.
Written entirely independently from the feature film, it's surprising to know that Spangler's script was first produced with a cast of student actors; the playwright is a Professor of Performance Studies at San Jose State University, and he met Hosseini, the author of the book, because they both live in San Francisco. Sadly, I don't feel this professional production does full justice to the excellent script; the portrayals lack passion and, perhaps, experience.
Nevertheless, if – like me – you've read and appreciated the original book, it might well be a five-star experience to see it on stage. I gave the show a standing ovation, which I have never done before at Brighton’s Theatre Royal. The Kite Runner is not for the faint-hearted, but for everyone who has travelled outside our small island and is thirsting for more, this performance is not to be missed.